The crown of the tooth is made up of a hard, white enamel layer and a thicker dentine layer. Both these hard layers protect the innermost, soft tissues of the tooth, called the pulp. The dental pulp contains blood vessels and nerves within and extends from the crown to the tips of the root or roots.
Root Canal Treatment (RCT/Endodontics) is needed when the blood or nerve supply of the tooth pulp is infected or inflamed through dental decay, severe gum disease, injury (such as a cracked or fractured tooth) or excessive wear of the enamel and dentine exposing the pulp. Infected pulp may lead to an abscess.
If the Root Canal Treatment is not carried out, the infection will spread and cause a loss of bone supporting the tooth and as a result you may end up losing the tooth. It is not recommended to leave an infected tooth in the mouth as it can lead to further health complications.
Signs of pulp damage may include pain, prolonged sensitivity to heat or cold, discoloration of the tooth, swelling, tenderness of the overlying gums or a bad taste in the mouth. On the other hand there may be no symptoms at all.
Root Canal Treatment saves teeth that would otherwise have been extracted. It is a skilled and time consuming procedure involving removal of the infected pulp tissues from the root canal.
Under local anaesthetic an opening is made in the crown of the tooth to get access to the pulp within. The root canals are then cleaned and filed into shape. Debris within the canals is removed by flushing with an antibacterial solution.
Often x-rays will be taken to determine the length of the root/s and to monitor the various treatment stages.
Between appointments medicaments may be placed within the canals to settle inflammation and the tooth is covered with a temporary filling.
Finally the canals are filled or sealed to prevent any further infection.
The tooth is restored to full shape and function by a permanent filling or a crown.
After treatment the tooth is pulp-less i.e. has no vital tissues within, however there are vital tissues surrounding the root, such as gum, periodontal membrane and bone.
A root-filled tooth can function normally and can be maintained with routine dental care and good oral hygiene measures.
Most courses of treatment involve two or more visits to your Dentist, depending on the complexity of the tooth.
Although usually very successful there is a 10% chance that your Root Canal Treatment could fail. Depending on circumstances treatment can be repeated. However if this is not possible your options are; referral to a specialist Endodontist, which would not be available through the NHS or extraction of the tooth.
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